At the Specialty Coffee Association of America expo, we attended a lecture on climate change and coffee. Several speakers discussed this topic, but I’ll focus on the climate module that Rainforest Alliance is adding to its certification. This was announced at last year’s SCAA meeting (my post here), and RA’s Jeff Hayward provided more details on the program.
Coffee, especially shade coffee, is a global crop that has a relatively lower impact on greenhouse gas emissions and a more positive impact on carbon sequestration than many other crops.There is potential for shade coffee farms to contribute to the mitigation of climate change and generate income for farmers at the same time; I have a previous post that outlines the basics.
Rainforest Alliance has developed around 100 different criteria used to certify farms. A small number are considered required critical standards. Beyond that, certification is awarded once a particular percentage of the remaining criteria are met. RA is evaluating which criteria represent practices that improve carbon storage and mitigate climate change. If those particular criteria are among those that are met by a farm, they would be eligible to receive a “Rainforest Alliance Plus” or "Climate Friendly" certification. RA is currently testing some assumptions and developing these criteria in Guatemala.
This will help buyers choose coffee that is climate friendly, but depending on what consumers are willing to pay won’t necessarily generate additional income for producers. A second part of RA’s climate program is to work to develop a mechanism for producers to receive payments for carbon credits within existing carbon markets. Since these must be beyond “business as usual,” existing shade coffee farms might not be able to greatly increase their amount of carbon sequestration. But this holds promise for farms that are growing sun coffee or shade monoculture as they can gain credits for planting shade trees or for reforestation – the more the better. It could also help discourage the conversion of coffee to pasture or less eco-friendly crops. RA is working on pilot carbon credit projects now in Mexico and Nicaragua.